July 4, 2007

Rushed provincial elections on December 20 threaten accountability, officials warn

President Armando Guebuza has announced that the country's first-ever provincial elections would take place on 20 December, but officials warn that the short preparation time will make it difficult to organise a "quality" vote, raising fears of lack of transparency. Voters will choose the members of 10 new provincial assemblies, representing a partial devolution of political power, which has so far been largely centralised in Maputo, the capital city. António Carrasco, head of Mozambique's elections administration, told government-controlled newspaper Notícias that a December date would mean a rushed electoral census, and the cost of holding the elections, once pegged at US$27 million, could double. He feared that a December scenario would mean that the "process would not have the quality we all would want", because it would also take place during the rainy season, with the possibility that polling sites in some parts of the country would be inaccessible to voters and poll workers.
President Guebuza, of the ruling socialist FRELIMO party, was reportedly reluctant to seek the needed change to the constitution to allow a later date, and the leadership of RENAMO, the main opposition party, was likewise eager to hold the vote this year. The constitution mandates that the elections take place in 2007.
"The electoral census will be deficient. There will be lots of 'ghosts' on the lists - voters who don't exist. It's going to damage the process; it won't be clean," claimed former FRELIMO legislator Gilberto Mendes. "The elections must be pushed to next year."
The national elections in 1999 and 2004 were widely criticised for numerous irregularities, due to allegedly poor organisation and instances of documented fraud. In both cases, "technical problems and a lack of transparency ... undermined the credibility of the process", said former US President Jimmy Carter in the foreword to a report by the Carter Center, a human rights NGO that observed the elections.
The new provincial assemblies, supporters say, will increase citizen participation in local affairs and amplify opposition voices. It will nevertheless have limited powers, and will not set policy or make laws, for example. However, they will have oversight functions and veto power over plans and budgets enacted by provincial governors, which will still be appointed by Maputo. "Provincial governors need to be independent of the president; that's the only way to have effective oversight," said Marcelo Mosse, director of the Mozambique Centre for Public Integrity. He felt that creating "jobs for the boys" in provincial assemblies was a way of providing more salaried positions for party members. (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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